“Have you taken him to any groups yet?” I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been asked this question in the past few months since baby classes were able to restart after lockdown. It’s probably up there with one of the things people most want to know, along with the dreaded: “Does he sleep through the night?”
Baby groups have boomed in the last decade, with everything from relaxing baby yoga or baby massage classes to stimulating sensory and messy play classes available at venues big and small across the UK. And while at one time it may have been enough to occasionally drop in to your local play group for the chance to enjoy a hot drink with fellow mums while your little ones played, parents are now shelling out hundreds of pounds at a time on months’ worth of classes or frantically scrambling for a place in their local oversubscribed Baby Sensory group similar to how they may have once done for Glastonbury tickets – and often because they feel pressured to do so.
In a recent Instagram survey by Keeping Mum, 56 percent of respondents said they felt pressured to go to baby groups, and of those who did go to classes, 40 percent said they don’t enjoy them.
So where is this pressure coming from, and why are we spending our potentially already limited maternity pay on something we don’t enjoy doing? Personally, I’ve found that often people talk about classes as though they are something you have to do to aid your baby’s development, and by missing out you might be seen as a bad mum. As a result I’ve tried music groups and sensory classes before coming to the conclusion they’re not really for me for many reasons – and accepting that’s not necessarily a bad thing for either me or my baby.
My decision is probably not helped by current COVID restrictions in classes either; like with so many things, groups have been hugely impacted by the pandemic, with masks, social distancing and personal trays of pre-sanitised props par for the course. So what once may have been a great opportunity for babies and toddlers to socialise and for mums to make new friends can now feel a little stilted and awkward, at least in my experience, anyway.
Furthermore, 71 percent of those polled said they hadn’t made new friends at groups, so when we’re frequently told they’re a must for socialising, it seems that isn’t always the case, perhaps especially so for new parents who have had babies during the coronavirus pandemic.
Of course for many mums these classes are a lifeline; an opportunity to get dressed, get out of the house and be around others, whether they make friends or not. But I also want to reassure mums who don’t go to classes – whether it’s because they don’t enjoy them, can’t afford to or other reasons – that you aren’t doing your child a disservice by not going.
Not having a full calendar of classes and activities does not make you any less of a good mother. Nor does sensory stimulation or learning for your baby come only via structured play or sitting in a group.
If there’s one thing many of us learned throughout the endless months of lockdowns in the past year, it’s that our babies’ needs are very simple, and all they need in the first year or so of their lives is the love and attention from their primary caregivers.
Going for walks, singing together at home and even having a bath are all educating, enjoyable and free experiences for little ones to enjoy. And if you do want to try some different play ideas without going to classes there are so many resources for inspiration – from these five incredible books of ways to play with babies and toddlers to shows like CBeebies’ The Baby Club and Instagram accounts like Mummy Pickles and playHOORAY!.
So if you find you’re signing up for loads of classes simply because you feel you have to rather than because you genuinely want to, remember they are by no means essential. Your baby only needs you, and you are more than enough.
Do you enjoy going to baby groups and have you ever felt pressured to go? Share your experiences in the comments or contact us with your story.